BRUSSELS — Tunisia has refused entry to a group of European Parliament lawmakers planning an official visit to the North African country, which is scheduled to begin Thursday.
The group of MEPs from the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, led by the German Michael Gahler, was banned from entering Tunisia on Wednesday evening.
“This delegation will not be authorized to enter the national territory,” wrote the Tunisian government in a letter seen by POLITICO addressed to the EU embassy in Tunis.
The move comes after the European Commission reached a controversial deal with Tunisia in July to stem migration flows to Europe. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen hailed the deal as a model for similar agreements with other countries in her State of the European Union speech on Wednesday, despite growing criticism from Parliament, NGOs and national governments, including Germany.
The Parliament delegation condemned the action of the Tunisian authorities and demanded an official explanation. “This conduct is unprecedented since the democratic revolution of 2011,” the deputies wrote in a statement.
Tunisian authorities gave no reason for the decision, but two parliament officials said the government was allegedly offended by a news conference held by MEPs in July criticizing the country’s democratic backsliding.
President Kais Saied’s government is under scrutiny for alleged human rights abuses against sub-Saharan Africans and a violent crackdown on the domestic opposition.
The refusal to admit MEPs will likely fuel further criticism of the Commission’s migration deal, which offers funding to Tunisia in exchange for help blocking boats carrying growing numbers of migrants towards Europe. But critics have already noted that arrivals of Tunisian migrants to Italy have soared since the deal was signed in July.
The vice president of the center-left Socialists and Democrats, Pedro Marques, called Tunisia’s decision to refuse entry to the group “scandalous” and urged von der Leyen to abandon the migration deal. “Financing an authoritarian regime that does not respect human rights and refuses democratic dialogue between institutions to outsource migration management is a huge political mistake,” he wrote in a statement to POLITICO.
Dutch centrist MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld said the Tunisian government’s decision was “in no way surprising”.
“What did they expect? The deal is already failing, it has no proper legal basis and it is costing taxpayers a lot of money,” she told POLITICO.
Ahead of the group’s planned visit, the delegation said it had requested to meet with Tunisian government officials – but Wednesday’s official agenda only listed engagements with civil society, NGOs and VIPs. of the opposition.
This article has been updated.